Drew McLellan

What Marketers Get Wrong About Thought Leadership

By: Drew McLellan | May 22, 2019 | 
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thought leadershipThought leadership is one of the hottest trends in marketing, but it may also be one of the oldest tactics in the book.

Way back in the late 1800s, John Deere started “The Furrow,” a magazine about all things farming.

The content was certainly a little biased and promotional, but readers also enjoyed learning best practices and helpful tips.

More than 100 years before “content marketing” became a buzzword, a tractor company had all but mastered the game.

Today, informed consumers want to know everything about the brands they support.

Sadly, many marketing teams take that as a license to churn out generic thought leadership that does little to show audiences why they should care.

But it’s the team’s responsibility to create meaningful content: its members must cultivate thought leadership strategies that forge real connections with audiences.

The Dangers of Impersonal Content

When people consume great content, they naturally crave more.

But to get the most our of thought leadership, brands should help audiences identify with the individuals who create it.

One B2B marketing company in Kansas City does this particularly well: ER Marketing focuses on building its industry, and all of the content it produces stays narrow and niche in scope.

That way, it’s both highly beneficial and caters to its audience.

The audience, in turn, becomes familiar with the company and the individuals who write its content.

As it turns out, this is especially important for marketers and agency professionals.

Someone who reads branded content probably won’t automatically convert into a client.

However, someone who follows the work of an individual will feel a deeper human connection.

That long-distance relationship plants the seed of trust, allowing the brand to speak on a more personal level through the voice of its executives or brightest stars.

Creating more personal thought leadership content can significantly shorten the buying cycle.

With so much branded noise on the web, people don’t have the time or energy to keep up.

By tying real people to content, however, brands can get their message across and build person-to-person followings that lead to measurable business results.

Using Content Triggers to Spark Interest

Rather than creating generic content and slapping a logo on it, marketers should develop content that shines.

Most times that means relying on the expertise of the business.

But expertise isn’t the only differentiating factor.

Marketers can also create successful content by discovering what audiences want, and generating posts based on those questions.

That overlap between expertise and demand—called a “content trigger”—is the sweet spot for content development.

Imagine talking to a prospect who has questions about SEO.

The business has the expertise to answer those, and at least one member of its audience is clearly interested in the answer.

That moment is a content trigger.

Marketers are encouraged to watch for those opportunities and develop thought leadership to answer questions.

In turn, they’ll develop full libraries of useful, in-demand content.

How Often Should You Publish Thought Leadership?

Nearly all marketers want to know how often they should publish content.

While the frustratingly common “it depends” answer applies here, savvy marketers should follow more specific best practices.

Even major brands like Red Bull and Whole Foods stick to a strict content schedule, mapping out detailed calendars to ensure content is posting at peak hours and on proper platforms.

These brands have figured out their best publishing practices based on audience activity, patterns, and even emotions.

The thought leadership they share is deliberate.

Follow their lead.

In most cases, one or two pieces of content per month should suffice.

You can also create one or two pieces of content for submission to other blogs or trade publications.

But no one needs to publish a dozen articles a month in the beginning.

That’s too lofty a goal, and will only create content overload.

A steady stream of quality content is much better than a sudden avalanche, followed by nothing.

Consistency is critical, so marketers should stick to a schedule (another reason to keep volume goals reasonable).

That on-site content doesn’t have to look exactly like your off-site contributions, either.

While few third-party publications accept promotional content, on-site posts can and should direct prospects to the business’s benefits.

The content must remain educational or entertaining, but it should also contain calls to action that lead audiences down the funnel.

Reaping Thought Leadership Rewards

As marketing teams consistently churn out thought leadership, something magical starts to happen.

People begin to refer to the brand’s content.

Outside parties share the content because of its quality.

The people behind the content gain reputations as experts.

And the amplification factor does wonders for inbound marketing.

If you want to leverage thought leadership content but have struggled to do so in the past, don’t get discouraged.

Keep testing new tactics, exploring new topics, and answering audience questions.

Stick to a schedule, and make sure contributed and on-site content reflects consistent standards of quality.

Build a foundation of thought leadership that encourages trust.

Over time, the snowball effect will lead more prospects to your door.

How do you approach developing thought leadership content? Share your examples in the comments below.

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

About Drew McLellan


Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry for more than 25 years. For 18 of those years, he has owned and continues to run his agency. McLellan also leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability through agency-owner peer networks, consulting, workshops and more.